5 Things to Do Before You Query


Last week’s post “6 Tips for Finding New Freelance Writing Markets” received a comment worth mentioning. Though I was brief in my roundup, the commenter Robert Earle Howells offered some good reminders:

These are all ways to troll, and they’re good. You can find great titles and get inspired. But remember, that doesn’t mean you’re ready to pitch them. One issue of a magazine, or even writer guidelines (which are often outdated), or a WM listing (ditto), can’t prepare you for a decent query. You need to look at the archives. You need to find the name and e-mail address of the exact editor to pitch. It’s also smart to check out the publication’s media kit for demographic info and other clues.

Robert is exactly right. Sending a blind query isn’t the best approach, there are steps to take before firing off your pitch. If you’re going query a market, be sure to take the time to do it right. For example, the last thing you want is to pitch an article idea only to learn they ran with a similar article two months ago.

Here’s a “before you query” check list to consider. Taking these steps before submitting a query can better your chances of success.

Read Back Issues

Visit the library and catch up on as many back issues as possible. There are several reasons for this: browsing the masthead will provide information regarding the editors and staff. By comparing these names to the articles inside, you can determine how many articles are written by staff writers vs. freelance writers. Moreover, familiarizing yourself with past issues will allow you see the market’s voice, get a feel for the readership and note what types of articles they generally publish. It’ll also give you an idea of what types of articles have been published in the past year or so, allowing you to submit a fresh idea.

Find Current Contact Information

Robert makes a very good point, your five year old edition of the Writer’s Market is sure to have outdated material, ditto for a past issue’s masthead. Read current editions to learn names and contact details, call the main office if necessary. Websites might also contain the current contact details. Don’t pitch a query until you’re sure you have the right person and the right department.

Research the Market’s Audience

Demographics are important. There are several ways to learn about a market’s readership. Contact the sales or marketing office for a media kit. Reading several issues cover to cover, especially the letters from readers, will give you a good idea about the age, gender and interests of the market’s reader base. Look online, read the Q&A’s, browse the forums and read demographic information provided to advertisers. Now you can tailor your pitch to meet the market’s needs.

Query or Manuscript?

Some markets prefer you pitch a completed manuscript, while others only wish to receive a query. Browse the Writer’s Market, online submission guidelines, or a current masthead to learn each particular market’s preference.

Critique Your Pitch

If you’re new to pitching markets, have a few experienced eyes critique your query before you drop it in the mailbox. Seasoned vets will help you punch up your pitch and recommend whether or not to add or omit certain details. After a little practice you’ll be able to fly solo, but it can never hurt to receive constructive criticism at first.

What are some of things you do before querying a market?


  1. says

    Someone once shared with me the great wisdom that you don’t actually have the entire page to catch the editor’s attention; assume you have 5 lines.

    When I’m reviewing and editing my query before I have several others look it over, I play the editor and read the first 5 lines throughout the day. Oddly, those 5 lines read differently depending on my mood, how busy I am, or how quiet the environment is. Something I may have thought was attention-grabbing when I wrote it may not provoke any movement in me at all when read before my first cup or morning coffee.

  2. says

    You mention going to the library and reviewing back issues of magazines, looking up the current editor, etc. I live in rural East Texas. The ONE library in the county stopped periodical subscriptions about five year ago because of funding cuts. The next library is at least an hour away and no better off. While what you suggest may be possible in large cities, it just doesn’t work other places. Short of forking over close to $10 for one sample issue (there is only one bookstore within an hour, too), the website is it for a huge part of the writing community.

    • Joanne Spangle says

      The library in my town has a community magazine exchange. If your library offered something like that then you would have access to any magazines anyone in your community didn’t need anymore. Would that help?

  3. says

    Joynicole is exactly right! How do I know? In my career I’ve edited three magazines and believe me, it usually took no more than a couple of lines of either a query or a manuscript to determine if I wanted to go further.

    Sounds rude, doesn’t it. Maybe, but unless you’ve received the amount of dreck an editor receives, you have no idea – and my experience in editing was before the ‘net. Must be way worse now with email.

    Deb the only thing I’d add to your list is to also pay attention to the ads. Advertising companies pay a lot of attention to who the readers are and target their ads in that direction. Lots of insight from ads for writers.

    Good post.



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